By Martin Kelly
 
THE brilliant premise of Total Recall – a movie inspired by the Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – was that holiday memories could be implanted.
 
So rather than heading to the airport to check-in, you’d go to the travel agent, leaf through some brochures, consider the choices, and request – as did star Arnold Schwarzenegger – a holiday in Mars or somewhere else out of this world.
 
Then you’d sit in a big chair, receive some medication, get the implant, and wake up to a brand new day – refreshed, invigorated and with enough holiday memories to last a lifetime.
 
Imagine that, having a holiday without actually taking one (although as Schwarzenegger discovered, they can still go horribly wrong).
 
Funny thing is, that’s what may be happening in the struggling Australian domestic tourism market, with consumers enjoying home life and consumer items over travel experiences.
 
A new study from the Bureau of Tourism Research reveals that domestic tourism cis in long-term decline, while outbound travel from Australian markets continues to increase from its 2001 low.
 
The study also shows that domestic tourism is becoming a two-tier industry, with tourism and accommodation businesses located near low-cost carrier hubs doing well, while those without air access struggle.
 
There was an eight per cent drop in overall domestic trips between 1998 and 2004, despite booming air travel (+12 per cent) and a correlated spike in the use of hotels, resorts or motels (+10 per cent) over the past three years.
 
Key domestic tourism trends between 2001 and 2004 include:
 
  • People taking fewer and shorter trips while spending less
  • Strong growth in VFR at the expense of holidays
  • Some domestic leakage to outbound travel for holidays
  • Domestic travel spend slipping as a budget priority
 
Suffering most are the short trips, either day or overnights, hurting operators who work at the margins of the travel distribution chain.
 
Meanwhile, young people are turning off domestic travel en masse.
 
The sharpest decline in domestic nights has been among young singles living at home (-22 per cent), while the trend also applies to working singles (-6 per cent) and young couples (-9 per cent).
 
One theory is that the growing dependence on – and fascination with – technology may be partly to blame.
 
It seems that an increasing number of people, loaded with debt and a beautiful new wide-screen TV, are taking what amount to virtual holidays in their living room or home theatre.
 
“The abundance of television travel shows may be providing at least some viewers with a ‘virtual’ experience of destinations profiled rather than encouraging people to visit these places,” the report says.
 
The report also cites: “A rapid advancement in communications (including mobile phones, DVDs, digital cameras, pay television, personal computers and the Internet) and dramatic growth in community willingness to embrace this technology.”
 
Can you believe it? Some people would rather watch Catriona Roundtree (Getaway) or Ernie Dingo (The Great Outdoors) rather than doing it themselves.
 
Then they can sit around and play with the latest electronic gadget, sending texts and photographs of the family sitting on the couch watching a really good travel show.
 
Maybe that’s what people want. Consumer spending on toys has gone through the roof, while the travel spend is either static (international) or going backwards (domestic).
 
“The contribution of all leisure travel (day, overnight and overseas travel combined) to total household consumption declined steadily from 12% to 10% between June 2001 and December 2004,” the report says.
 
“This is despite strong growth in consumer spending outpacing the increase in the Consumer Price Index of 9% over the same period.”
 
The biggest drop has been travel by the residents of Australia’s capital cities, where house prices are largest and mortgages biggest, in particular Sydney and Melbourne, the largest source markets for domestic overnight leisure travel.
 
While international travel has been a bright spot, its share of total household consumption barely increased from 2.5% to 2.7% between 1998 and 2004.
 
What can the industry do to ensure travel remains a priority among Australians? Don’t ask me, Getaway starts in a few minutes and my wife is keeping a space warm on the couch.
 
Ends
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